A Generation That Does Not Get Its Chance

There is a generation of young people that has become known to other people as one that occupies things. May it be universities in 2009 or financial districts in 2011, there is a large group of twenty somethings that seem to have too much time. They are believed to spend too much time in universities and dreamy non-profit organisations, and the high unemployment rates among these people go often unacknowledged. Many people even believe it is the fault of the young people, because a situation in which college graduates in their best years are unemployable seems unimaginable. So why are young people unemployed ? Why do they go on the streets ? What’s wrong ?

Western Europe is a nice place to live in if you are 65 years old.

It means you were born after the war, and even though these still might have been tough times, by the time you were 10 things already were rolling again, literally and well. By the time you were 20 unemployment was virtually unheard of, you were hired on the spot and couldn’t get fired. Now you are retiring. For the next years you will enjoy the comfort of pension payments far exceeding the taxes you paid. In some extreme cases, you will receive payments for a period about as long as that during which you worked. You can comfortably sue everyone who turns their music up too much, who rides their skateboard on the street, on the bike lane (a skateboard is not a vehicle) or on the side walk (endangering). You can be sure to find markets open when you like them open, and closed when you like them closed. It does not matter too much who you were in your 20s and 30s, because no matter if you derive your privileges from rock music royalties, stock market shares or a comfortable teaching position, your privileges will be protected. Because you have a powerful lobby behind you, and the many politicians of your age not only understand your reservations to homosexual men and women showing their affections openly or your reservations to anything that happens online, they share them.

Western Europe however, is not so nice of a place to live in if you are in your early twenties.

The numbers are tricky. Since youths (defined as between 15 and 24) are mostly in education or are expected to be in education, they are not counted as part of the labor force. And as there is no defined size of youth labor force, unemployment cannot be calculated using the traditional approach ’number of people seeking jobs’ divided by ’size of labor force’. Eurostat calculates their youth unemployment statistics by dividing the number of job seeking young people by the total number of young people. In Germany, this number is 10%. In the UK, 20%. France (24%) and Italy (28%) have a comparatively average youth unemployment, though seeing every fourth young person unsuccessfully looking for a job is already quite depressing. Spain and Greece top it off with unemployment figures reaching alarming heights of 48% and 46% respectively.

It is also not easy either for those who have a job. Often this job is in the service industry, waiting tables or conducting customer service over the phone line. These jobs offer no or little possibilities for a career and transfer almost no skills whatsoever that could be used for a career later. Employers also are highly disincentivised to hire their interns or short-term employees. Once someone has a long-term contract, they become extremely difficult to fire. A regulation that favors incumbents. This could for example explain the often big discrepancy between youth and overall unemployment. Even though we must remember that the two ratios are calculated with a different method, we should note that only few countries come close to equal ratios (Germany : 1.5). That means, in Germany the unemployment rate for youths is 1.5 times higher than for adults. In the UK, it is 3.4 times as much. In France it’s 2.8, and the 4.0 from Italy makes youth unemployment in Spain (2.3) or Portugal (2.2) seem quite harmless. Only Luxembourg and Sweden have a worse ratio (4.2 and 4.3)

It is very difficult for these people to do something about their unemployment. Many university students are already postponing their graduation with second bachelor degrees or more specializations in the hope for better times and more qualifications. But that only works so long until it actually harms the employability (horrible word) of these people.

People with skills are still in high demand, as European business expand their activities to the quickly emerging markets in South America and Asia. But skills often represent a ’chicken or the egg’ dilemma to fresh graduates. Without the skills, they cannot get a job, but without a job, they cannot build up skills. Universities were always a place for knowledge, not skills. It seems odd that through the implementation of the Bologna process many courses and programs were fitted to attempt to achieve such a thing. Universities always taught people how to think and gave people an environment in which they could think freely. It was not meant to be a place in which one learns how to measure customer satisfaction in airline companies. A graduate of biology can comfortable end up in the pharmaceutical, the robotics, the food or the petroleum industry. A university can only establish the ground principles for a given field, it can not prepare the student for the millions of different opportunities that a science brings. Only that specific job can do that. That is why it is so important for young people to get a chance at a job. To solve the chicken or egg dilemma.

It also has now for a long time become increasingly difficult to open small businesses. First, there is the issue of regulation, which often seem to require its own degree to understand. Opening up a lemonade stand requires business permits, sanitation authorization, stall and license fees, often from various offices on different levels. Opening up a lemonade factory requires long and enduring battles against gigantic international incumbents along the entire production and distribution line that get support from lobbyists between Lisbon, Brussels and Helsinki. They help unknowing politicians with drafting laws that benefit those who are already in business, so that new people don’t get any. Young economists and mathematicians in 2012 can’t even easily become taxi drivers anymore. That is not even due to often heavy loaded theoretical tests. It is because current taxi drivers have successfully convinced municipalities to restrict the number of cabs and drive up the legally binding prices.

Artists too struggle in a world that rests its intellectual property laws on the business plan of an industry that still makes most of its money with the same artists as 20 years ago. The way in which we create and market the music, film, performance, writings, games, or paintings of today is entirely different from what our laws are made for. This in effect favors incumbents, so no wonder we see nothing new on the shelves. It’s simply not found on the shelves. Funds set up by governments to help struggling artists are incredibly difficult to tap without the right connections. While the people who hand out such money stay the same, so do the recipients.

The bursting stock market bubbles of 2008 do not constitute the crisis in which the youth finds itself in three years later. When hitting an economy however that so favors incumbency in employment, entrepreneurship and the arts, it makes it very difficult for that economy to recover. Those people who have jobs, skills, businesses or a reputation back from when it was possible for everyone to gain these have created an environment that makes it very difficult to contest these incumbents.

Lobbyists and Unions in our capitols all cater the same interest : To serve those who have the jobs right now or who do business right now. This makes it difficult, and in some cases virtually impossible to get a chance to prove yourself in the field that you like if you are new and young. It is an environment in which young people are left out and are debarred from society. It is also an environment that divides the youth between those who have some opportunity to inherit their parents’ incumbency through passing on material wealth, skills or contacts, and those who do not have that opportunity. This is far from desirable and threatens the very basis of European ideals.

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‘The youth are the future’ may sound like a cliché but how long can we deny that it is the truth?

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Leonhard WEESE

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